Looking at Marriage During Lent
An Ideal Time for the Renewal of Our Marriages
With Rev. Fr. Andrew Manickam Ofm Cap
Lent seems to be the ideal time to look at marriage. How does our Lent journey
shape what we are called to do in marriage?
A few decades ago, the word "obey" was removed from wedding vows. Instead we
promised to love, honor and cherish each other. Many years later, Jesuit
philosopher John Kavanaugh, S.J. lamented how much we had lost by dropping the
word “obey” from wedding vows. He said that the root of the word “obey” simply
means to put the needs of another ahead of our own.
Obedience in this context has nothing about one dominating another - only two
people pledging to put the needs of the other ahead of their own. What a
wonderful idea. It seems that this is exactly what we are called to in a
Called by Jesus to be Unselfish
Now during these weeks of Lent we can take some time to examine our marriage. Do
we love as deeply as we had originally intended when we first made our vows? As
unselfishly? Whether we’ve been married 3 years or 30, this sacred season could
be the start of a renewed relationship with our spouse, shaped by our experience
We are invited by Jesus to put the needs of another ahead of our own. We can
deepen our commitments in marriage and even change the dynamics within our
relationships through unconditional love. In loving this way, we transform not
only our spouses but more importantly, ourselves.
For those of us who are parents, we have probably always put the needs of our
children first – but our spouse? Yes, we care for each other, but do we put the
other’s needs ahead of our own? And yet how profoundly would our marriages
change if we simply lived that vow for a while?
During Lent, we can make “obey-ing” the special focus of our lives. Instead of
giving up chocolate, what if each day during Lent, we asked for the grace to be
more unselfish in our marriage? As a first step, what if tomorrow, before we got
out of bed, we asked God to help us love our spouse more? To put the needs of
this life partner of ours ahead of our own?
Silencing our Disappointments
This Lenten journey begins with prayer and moves into silence. We hold off on
the sarcastic comment aimed at our spouse. We silence a cutting remark. We drop
the correction before it comes out of our mouths. Neglect the pouting. Stop the
stony silence when we are displeased. These behaviors can be long standing and
not easy to change. Also, it might take a while before our spouse really trusts
these efforts. We will be the ones doing the “giving” for a while.
We are born selfish creatures crying out for someone to take care of our needs.
The process of growing in this life seems to be learning how to become less
selfish, less self-absorbed. On our good days we can do that, by loving, giving
and caring for others before thinking of ourselves. But on our bad days, we look
at our spouses and others and grumble about the unfairness: “Why is it always ME
who has to do the giving? Why doesn’t my spouse have to care about ME first? Am
I always the one who has to apologize first? Ask about the other’s day first?
When is it MY turn to be taken care of?”
We are called to love in marriage the way we are loved by Jesus – without
figuring out what we will get out of it. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
As I have loved you. In the same way Jesus loves us – without limits. And so we
love our spouse who is crabby and barking. Instead of snapping a response we can
ask ourselves, “What does my spouse need right now?” It’s not about giving up my
dignity or rolling over to a bully. It’s about loving someone who might not be
very loveable right now.
We can wallow in our own self-pity and self-absorption, but it is in that moment
that we are being called more deeply into Jesus’ love. We must die to our own
needs and our own longing in order to find a new life in Jesus. In a profound
way, we are being called to the simplest task: to care about other people before
we take care of ourselves. What kind of people would we be if we got everything
we wanted? If we never had to move outside of our own needs and desires? Jesus
asks us: What good is it for us to get everything we wanted, if in the process
we lose our very selves?
Cherishing Each Other
We've stopped snapping back, held our complaints. What if we add a small goal
for ourselves every day? What if we added one positive, loving thing each day of
Lent? We might hang up his clothes without complaining about it. Put the cap
back on her toothpaste – with a smile. Lay out the crossword puzzle with a fresh
pencil for him. Have a pot of coffee ready for her in the morning. Do some of
the tiny, thoughtful things we might have done years ago, before we slipped out
of the habit.
It’s not spending money, it’s a change of attention. Send him an e-mail of
gratitude during the day. Tuck a note into her suitcase as she departs on a
trip. A call just to say how grateful I am for you in my life. Each day we ask
God for the grace to love as God loves us – without limits.
One final thing is patience. We have to learn to trust that eventually, with our
constant loving and God's grace, our spouse will notice the difference. Under
the barrage of love, our spouse will begin to soften, bark less, say Thank You
more. It takes time to change the patterns and it takes time for our spouse to
trust in the changes. It may take months beyond Lent, but if we believe in this,
pray about it and trust in God, the changes that happen in our marriages and
ourselves can be dramatic.
This isn’t something for women to do for their husbands. Or husbands to do for
their wives. It is what each of us as married people are called to do for each
other. This is the way of life Jesus calls us to: “Whoever wishes to come after
me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
Re-focusing our marriage invites us to be more giving, to fight our human nature
that has us focused on our own needs. We are asked to stop keeping score with
the ones we love and to put their needs ahead of our own. It is then, Jesus
promises, that by losing our lives for his sake, we will find real life.
Family Conversion - Relationship Conversion
Lent can be a good time to reflect on the people who mean the most to us and the
relationships we hold most dear. For those of us who live in industrialized
countries, it can be jarring to realize that our time together as a family might
amount to no more than a few minutes a day. Our lives are independent as we
scatter in different directions each day for work, school or childcare.
This season of reflection and renewal might be an appropriate time to pray about
our family lives and how we can be more thoughtful and prayerful about Lent as a
family. Perhaps we could hold a family meeting over dinner or some other relaxed
place. We could discuss Lent and the symbols of the season using the resources
here. We might want to talk about how our faith life is not a journey we make
alone, but one we are in as a community, as a family.
One Lenten family practice might include a daily act of love for our family. Can
we look around and see some small thing that needs to be done to make our lives
together better? Is there laundry to sort or dishes to be washed? Is there a
floor that needs sweeping or a room that needs dusting? Just one effort by each
of us each day can make a dramatic difference in sharing the workload in the
family. The grace we are reaching for goes beyond getting the garbage taken out,
for example. We know it is a grace when my experience of taking the garbage out,
feels to me like an act of love, an act of solidarity as a family. Perhaps the
simplest way to prepare for this grace is to pray:
Dear Lord, may this simple, ordinary sacrifice of my time for the sake of those
I love, draw us closer together as a family whose hearts you are drawing to
yourself in the togetherness of our family love.
One of the real graces of Lent has to do with forgiveness and reconciliation –
mercy and healing. This is never simply a matter between Jesus and me. It always
has something to do with my family and with my relationships – how we are with
each other. What in us needs mercy and healing? What patterns that we have need
our reflections and common family choices and actions this Lent? What patterns
of actions and family choices do we need to reflect on this lent?
Fr Andrew Manickam Ofm Cap